Australian Paralympic amputee athlete Sarah Walsh, the reigning bronze medallist in the women’s long jump T64, enjoyed a recent visit ‘home’ to family in Carrickbeg, staying at her aunt Olivia Walsh’s and cousin Emer’s house, next door to her paternal grandmother Theresa Walsh in Coolnamuck, the homestead where Sarah’s father Tom grew up.
Sarah, who was born in Australia in 1998, is an exceptional athlete who has taken to the world stage proudly representing Australia in Para-athletics with an ever-increasing personal best in the Long Jump.
Sarah was born with fibular hemimelia and her parents Tom and Patricia (Clones, Co. Monaghan) had a harrowing decision to make which resulted in a below knee amputation when she was just 18 months old. Growing up in Sydney gave Sarah the opportunity to pursue her love of sports and she enjoyed swimming, surfing, dancing and athletics in her younger years. She was drawn particularly to the long jump, after receiving a prosthetic running blade when she was just 10 years old. She had been encouraged by a teacher to get involved in para-athletics the previous year and had joined Helensburg Little Athletics Club. Her skill and brilliant athletic performances led her to represent her school, town and state from an early age and at 15 Sarah represented Australia for the first time in 2014, at the International indoor sports event held in Glasgow which was a lead up to the Commonwealth Games. She came 2nd in a jump of 4.28m, which was a personal best for her at that time.
Fuelled with amazing energy, motivation and a great love of the sport Sarah went on to represent Australia at the IPC Athletics World Championships held in Doha, Qatar in 2015, where she finished 6th in the Women’s Long Jump T44 with 4.70m jump. Further success followed as she competed in the Paralympic Games held in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and achieved 6th place in a 4.82m jump in the Women’s Long Jump T44, setting an Oceanian record.
Her parents, younger sisters Maura and Katie and family, including her grandmother Theresa Walsh and aunt Olivia from Carrickbeg and uncles and aunts from Rathgormack had all travelled over to support her. Success continued and Sarah took 4th place in the women’s long jump during the World Para Athletics Championships held in London in 2017 with a jump of 4.85m.
The World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai in 2019 was the next venue for Sarah to represent Australia and she excelled in the Long Jump T64 with a leap of 5.20m. The joy of receiving a bronze medal for 3rd place at this venue was immense and Sarah continued to train which led her to again represent Australia in August 2021 in the Tokyo Paralympic Games 2020, gaining 7th place in the long jump of 5.11m.
The Games took place this year as they had been cancelled in 2020 with Covid restrictions. Sarah will now compete in the World Para Athletics Championships to be held in Kobe, Japan scheduled for August 2022 at the Kobe Universiade Memorial Stadium, one of Japan’s multi-purpose stadiums.
Sarah adores getting back to Ireland and catching up with her family and she has regularly returned every two years. At only 23 she aspires to winning silver and gold in the future. Her positive attitude to life and sport is evident in all that she does and she is remarkably grounded, balancing her training with an active social life, healthy eating to keep her energised and allocating time for her current studies in Exercise Science and Sports Science at the University of Canberra NSW.
Sarah trains 6 days a week for up to two and a half hours, taking in running, jumping and gym weights, which all help her maintain her fitness levels. Through sport she has met people with all sorts of disabilities and has made many great friends from all over the world. “We all bond competitively on the track and off the track,” she said, adding that without her prosthesis leg and running blade she would not be doing what she’s doing. ‘It was one of the best things to happen I have met so many new people and nothing has hindered me in my sport, I have had great help and support from my family and others who are always behind me.’ Sarah said that she couldn’t have achieved her success without the support and help from everyone else. “Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, we can all find a way to do what we love,” she added.
And indeed Sarah loves what she does, she was never pushed going forward and was only ever encouraged and supported in her training. In 2016 Sarah designed a t-shirt with all profits from sale going to the Australian charity ‘Limbs 4 Life’ which helps and supports amputees. Her brilliant design featured an eye with the caption ‘Dare to Stare’. One of Sarah’s great strengths is her attitude to competing in sport, she is never stressed, always happy doing what she is doing best and working on getting beyond her personal best of 5.49m, with the advice to “Always follow your dreams.”
Sarah praises everyone especially her family in Australia and Ireland and coach Matt Beckenham who she says with great pride, ‘have always been the supportive and driving forces behind her successes’.